Having been dragooned into attending the NC State Fair by visiting friends, I decided to try the M240 as a ‘street photography’ camera. 21mm f4, ISO 800, f8 and scale focus. Basically point and shoot. As I’ve mentioned innumerable times, my preferred ‘street photography’ set-up is the Ricoh GXR with the 21mm via the M-Mount module using the same settings. Given the GXR’s crop sensor, its the equivalent of shooting a 32mm on a full frame.
Having now experienced both, I’m still partial to the Ricoh for street work. It’s smaller, lighter, less obtrusive, and mated to the 21mm gives the perfect focal length for drive by shooting (the 21mm used full frame is simply a bit too wide for my tastes, not allowing you to get the feeling of being on top of subjects in a way the same lens on a 1.5 crop sensor does. The M240’s 24mpx sensor does, however, give you much more leeway to crop, unlike the GXR’s 10 mpx, but I’m pretty much a ‘no crop’ guy anyway). Here’s the best of what I could do with the M240 in 150 minutes at the fair. The one above and the one directly below are cropped. IMHO, nothing exceptional, but then again I was there 2.5 hours, so I wasn’t expecting a body of work. But the two previous times I’ve been to the fair with the GXR I’ve been amazed at the amount of interesting photos it’s brought back.
Another thing I’ve noticed with the larger megapixel sensors is that it’s more difficult to dirty them up in post-processing. With lower pixel count cameras – the old CCD Nikon D200 or the Ricoh, both 10 megapixel – it’s easy enough to push a few buttons in Silver Efex and get a gritty image resembling Neopan 1600 or Tri-X pushed a few stops. It seems the pixel density of 20+ megapixel sensors resist such treatment. One more reason I find the digital sensor sweet spot to be 10-16 megapixels; of course, if you’re shooting with sharpness and clarity in mind, or are looking to produce 40×60 prints, lower resolution sensors aren’t going to cut it. But for street photography you’re going to display digitally or print in reasonable sizes i.e. 12×18 max, they work.
Anyone else shoot them both? I’d love to hear reader’s preferred cameras for street work…..
Last September, while in Dubrovnik, I dropped my M9 Monochrom from a very low table (2 feet maybe) onto a carpeted floor. Should be nothing to worry about, except that the shutter wouldn’t fire now. I envisioned thousand dollar repairs and 1 year waits via Leica’s New Jersey Service Department. As such, upon arriving home I shelved the camera and forgot about it. I’ve got a bunch of other cameras, an M240 which I really like in particular, and I wasn’t shooting much of anything anyway. When I got my terminal diagnosis recently, I realized I needed to get the Monochrom fixed or it would probably end up in the trash after I died due to my estate assuming it was just an inoperable camera with no inherent value…so I sent it off to Leica USA and waited. They acknowledged receipt on August 23rd and then…crickets.
About 3 weeks ago I sent the Leica Service folks the following email:
Can you give me a timeframe for my repair? Believe it or not, I’m terminally ill – have a few months left – and I’d love to get my monochrom back for just a bit before I head off to oblivion.
To which they replied immediately, indicating they were moving my repair to the front of the line. Which they did (my apologies to all those Leicaphiles waiting for their camera to get fixed; I just jumped to the front of the line!) I’ve got my Monochrom back, rangefinder adjusted, sensor cleaned, shutter firing (apparently it was just a loose wire somewhere).
That’s good service. Thank you, Leica.
Basic Out-of-Camera Monochromed M240 DNG File
Of course, what this calls for in celebration is a totally anecdotal ‘test’ comparing the B&W output of the Leica M240 against the M9 Mono. The M240 has a 24 mp CMOS sensor, the MM an 18 mp CCD sensor. The same lens – a VC 35mm f2.5 (great lens BTW) – was used for both, making for a ballpark oranges to oranges comparison. (Pixel peeping at x400 magnification will have to wait for another post). Above is an M240 DNG file that imported into LR and very basic adjustments made, essentially just playing with the exposure curves a bit. Directly below is a Monochrom DG subjected to the exact same initial treatment as the M240 file above:
Basic Out-of-Camera Monochrom DNG File
Like most Monochrom DNG files, it’s a bit flat. That’s OK. It’s OK, because Monohrom DNG files, as opposed to in-camera jpgs, are meant to be post-processed. Leica even sent purchasers a copy of Silver Efex along wit the camera. And as a dedicated B&W shooter I always run my files through Silver Efex for a final print or something posted digitally. (I’ve made these files big enough so you can click on them and get somewhat of a larger view). It’s there that I notice the increased flexibility of the Monochrom DNG versus the M240 DNG converted to B&W and then worked up.
Above are the M240 and the MM files respectively, again, this time worked up in Silver Efex to emulate an HP5 negative. The changes made varied between the two files; what I was looking to do was get the best end result I could be each file, and this necessarily required different adjustments.
Nothing wrong with the M240 version – it certainly can stand on its own – but the MM print just has a sharpness and pop that the M240 print doesn’t. Of course, I could have jacked up the contrast and sharpness just a bit more in the M240 print after I’d compared it to the MM print. That’s typically what we’d do in the wet darkroom, right? We’d print it again, knowing we wanted more contrast, this time using a more contrasty grade of paper and, for maximum sharpness, a grain focuser.
So what you see below is the M240 file previously edited in LR, now with some added contrast and sharpness:
Still not up to the MM final print. Arguably not as good as the previous M240 file above. Who knows. All of this is subjective and really is arguing over relatively small differences. Does it make any difference in real life? For most photographers, probably not. For those of us dedicated B&W shooters with an eye cultivated through long experience with both film and digital B&W, yes. It does.
I’ve always told myself that if I started posting pictures of my wife/kids/pets to fill up space I’d shut Leicaphilia down and call it a day. It’s inevitable, at some stage, you run out of things to stay, no matter how much you’ve said in the past. I suspect I’m getting dangerously close to that time, given I’m now reduced to posting pictures of my wife. I could do worse, I suppose. My wife is easy on the eyes. In any event, the best I can promise you for the time being are some fairly thoughtless comparisons like the output of the M9M versus the M240. I really do like both cameras, but have developed a distinct preference for the M9M since I shoot exclusively in B&W. Native B&W output seems one less unnecessary step, and I do think the M240 suffers in comparison to the M9M’s sharpness and tonal output. Plus its a cool camera, period, the first digital M that really feels like an M4.
What you see above is essentially the same photo, taken with the same lens (VC 35mm 2.5 LTM) and parameters (ISO 2000, f4, 1/60) – one with the M240, one the M9M – both unedited except run through Silver Efex at identical settings. I see a difference. You can right-click on them to view them in a new window.
I really enjoy publishing this blog. The amount of feedback I get from readers is really fulfilling, and people have been incredibly kind in wishing me well since I’ve been sick. I can genuinely say that I’ve made friends here, which is something the old, cynical version of me would have scoffed at; but it’s true. Lot’s of good people have shared lots of good things with me, both via the comments section and behind the scenes. I appreciate all of it. I’ve especially enjoyed publishing work that readers have submitted- Shuya Ohno’s homage to his father being a recent example of a beautiful piece of work that probably wouldn’t have found a wider audience if not for the blog.
Unfortunately, I’m completely devoid of inspiration to be posting interesting or thought provoking content myself. I’m battling a serious case of cancer that had laid me out. I went from someone who literally never had an illness, someone who acted and felt a good 20 years younger than I was, someone who could ride 100 miles on a bike at an 18 mph pace, or row a 2:04/500m pace for and hour, to a frail man who needs his wife hold his hand to walk around the block. It’s been a humbling experience. What’s helped tremendously is the wife….and all the well-wishes I’ve received from so many of you. Thank you.
Plus, I’ve chosen to stay enrolled in my graduate history program, which I’ve been lucky enough to do given COVID has precluded having to travel to Boston to attend classes in person. So I’ve been able to do a lot of work online, which, of course, takes up much of my free time, although it’s a pale substitute for walking through Harvard Yard on a beautiful Spring day. When I complain, as I’m want to do, my wife rightfully reminds me this is a first-world problem at best. Plus there’s my professional career. All of which is to say that it’s improbable you’re going to be getting much from me in the way of interesting content for a bit. Expect more useless photo comparisons until such time as I’m up and on my feet and at least walking the neighborhood without having to hold my wife’s hand. A ride around the block on my bike probably is going to have to wait for the time being.
The M8. I Had a Love/Hate With This Camera for Many Years
As you know, I’ve been, at best, ambivalent about Leica in the digital age. I’ve taken a lot of cheap shots at their digital cameras over the years, M digitals included. I’ve been skeptical that the Leica M film experience could be transposed to the digital age. Part of the problem is digital capture simply doesn’t lend itself to simplicity – it requires electronics and LCD screens and nested menus and all the afflatus that gives rise to digital bloat, and Leica isn’t immune to it in spite of their best intentions to keep things simple.
It seemed, at least in the beginning, that Leica’s continued emphasis on simplicity had become less a design ethos than a marketing slogan, or worse yet, a cynical way of attempting to paper over inferior product. It’s not like Leica, as anyone selling a widget, isn’t above self-serving puffery. Let’s face it: the M8, pleasing to look at and fondle like previous film Leicas, arrived with some serious issues: buggy electronics, color capture issues, battery problems, dismal ISO capabilities, a shutter that sounded like a construction-grade staple gun. The M9 fixed some of it, but I couldn’t help but think that Leica was over their heads in the digital age, where quality had less to do with traditional Leica hand-craftsmanship and more with technical expertise, technical expertise being the forte of large manufacturers like Nikon and Canon.
And then there was the Leica ergonomic, the felt experience of operating one that was so seductive with their film M’s. The film M’s just feel right. Refined yet simple. No intercession of electronics to do things for you (before the M7 at least). Radically minimalist design, uncluttered viewfinder, big bright mechanical rangefinder. Simple wind-on, imperceptible shutter click, rewind. Advancing the film offered just enough throw and resistance to make the act pleasurable as its own experience. Many Leicaphiles carried our M’s around the house with us – why? because they stimulated that part of the lizard brain connected to the hand. Film M’s made you a gearhead.
I’m not sure that ergonomic simplicity transfers over to the digital M’s, or at least I was skeptical at best. While my M8 looked like an M it didn’t feel like one. Whatever magic they packed into the M4 was simply not there in the M8. Where the M4 felt fluidly effortless and simple, the M8 felt clunky and convoluted. Where the M4 shutter whispered, the M8 sounded like it was shooting high-velocity projectiles. Figuring out how to format a card or change ISO invariably devolved into multi-thumb fumbling of wheels, buttons, and menu options, all while your subject fleeing as if from a school shooter. Efficient it wasn’t.
But …. if your interest was traditional B&W photography, as opposed to digital hyper-realism, in spite of what sensor rankings and 100% cropping geeks declaimed, the M8’s output was astonishing. B&W from the M8 just had the look, a function of the CCD sensor and its increased IR sensitivity which produced thick, film-like B&W files. All you needed to do was add a bit of grain. I was willing to put up with the quirks – the random freeze-ups, the glacial boot-up times, the god-awful swack of the shutter – to get that B&W output. It was that good, a monochrome camera to rival the Monochrom.
This is all prelude to the fact that I’m having to rethink my opinions these days [shock!]. I bought a used M240 a while ago, not expecting much, and found that I really liked it, as in really. Wanting a digital camera to compliment my aging GXR and my exasperating Sigma SD Quattro (another love/hate thing), I’d thought of the usual alternatives – an X100, X-Pro, D4s – and then decided against them. It was time to buy a digital M.
To make a long story short – I liked the M240 so much I splurged and bought the camera I’d always really wanted – the Monochrom, the original CCD version based on the M9 platform. Found a nice one with an updated, non-corrosive sensor. I’ve totally fallen in love. It’s a digital M4. It’s got the feel. Hell, it even looks just like a black chrome M4. As for output, I’m convinced there’s a roll of Ilford HP5 rated at 800 ISO hidden in there somewhere.
An M5 w/ HP5 @ 800 ISO, an M240 DNG Run Through Silver Efex … or a Leica Monochrom?
So, going forward I’ve decided to go all Steve Huff on you, amusing you with various posts about the Mono and the M240 and how they compare to an M5 with HP5. This weekend, I’m going out with the M5 and a 35mm VC loaded with HP5, the Mono and the M240 and see how they each render the same subject. If you’ll indulge my geekiness, I promise no 100% crops or duplicate shots of fence posts. I’ll try to keep shots of the wife and cats to a minimum.
“There’s no question: time to dump your old M240 while you still can. It was too big to be considered a real LEICA… Who were they kidding? Ditch your M240 while you still can. I never kept my M240; I sent it back and have been using my M9 ever since for its smaller size and much faster and simpler operation” — Ken Rockwell in his review of the M10
Small dimension changes can feel quite different. When the M3 came out there were complaints about the size from IIIf users; Leica bragged the M5 was only a finger-width larger than the M4 – but people thought it was huge; the M9 felt too thick compared to an M6; etc. Then there are the people who complain about the size of the M240 and then add shit to it (half case, grip, EVF, thumbs up, soft release, etc.) And then there’s Ken Rockwell.
Yo, Ken: Leicaphiles bitched about the 2.5″ LCD of the M9. Leica put a bigger one in the M240. People bitched about the battery capacity of the M9. Leica fixed that with the M240. Those two upgrades take up room. The difference between the M240 and M9 can be attributed to the need to accommodate the larger rear display and the thumbwheel/rest. Even so, the 240 is virtually the same size as the M8/9 and only a few mm thicker (and the same width and height) than the M6TTL.
Here are some relevant numbers – M240: 139x80x42 millimeters – M9: 140x80x38 millimeters – M6: 138x77x38 millimeters. The M240 is 0.15748 inches thicker than the M9 and M6.
If you’re looking for a digital M, the M240 currently a screaming deal, not much more than a ratty old M8 and about the same as the much inferior M9. You can buy two lightly used M240’s for less than the price of a used M10. I beg you to find any significant difference in their output (If you’re one of those insufferable people who judges a digital camera on its DXO score, the M240 and the M10 are basically identical in terms of claimed IQ, the M240 actually scoring better overall dynamic range while the M10 has marginal better high ISO performance).
The M240 isn’t bigger, it’s heavier. More weight can cause users to grip the camera differently, affecting the perception of size. The Barnack IIIf weighed 430 grams (.947 lbs), for instance, while the film M’s weigh in the neighborhood of 600 grams (1.32 lbs). The Leica M9 is 585 grams (1.28 lbs). The M240 is 678 grams (1.49 lbs). The ‘added weight’ of the M240 over the film M’s (.17 lbs!) is due to the larger battery, which is the first digital M battery that’ll last a whole day of shooting. The film era sized 2017 M10, while lighter than the M240, is back to the smaller, less powerful battery of the M9, and users are back juggling multiple batteries if they intend to shoot all day. But hey, it’s .15 inches less thick. One step forward, one step back.